Pelvic endometriosis is a complex syndrome characterized by an estrogen-dependent chronic inflammatory process that affects primarily pelvic tissues, including the ovaries. It is caused when shed endometrial tissue travels retrograde into the lower abdominal cavity. Endometriosis is the most common cause of chronic pelvic pain in women and is associated with infertility. The underlying pathologic mechanisms in the intracavitary endometrium and extrauterine endometriotic tissue involve defectively programmed endometrial mesenchymal progenitor/stem cells. Although endometriotic stromal cells, which compose the bulk of endometriotic lesions, do not carry somatic mutations, they demonstrate specific epigenetic abnormalities that alter expression of key transcription factors. For example, GATA-binding factor-6 overexpression transforms an endometrial stromal cell to an endometriotic phenotype, and steroidogenic factor-1 overexpression causes excessive production of estrogen, which drives inflammation via pathologically high levels of estrogen receptor-β. Progesterone receptor deficiency causes progesterone resistance. Populations of endometrial and endometriotic epithelial cells also harbor multiple cancer driver mutations, such as KRAS, which may be associated with the establishment of pelvic endometriosis or ovarian cancer. It is not known how interactions between epigenomically defective stromal cells and the mutated genes in epithelial cells contribute to the pathogenesis of endometriosis. Endometriosis-associated pelvic pain is managed by suppression of ovulatory menses and estrogen production, cyclooxygenase inhibitors, and surgical removal of pelvic lesions, and in vitro fertilization is frequently used to overcome infertility. Although novel targeted treatments are becoming available, as endometriosis pathophysiology is better understood, preventive approaches such as long-term ovulation suppression may play a critical role in the future.
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